On a visit to Montreal, I was taking in the haut cuisine in the hipster area of this old city. Picking a place to eat was difficult but thoroughly worth the trouble.
Once seated and with menu in hand, I began the grueling task of deciding what gastronomical pleasures would be mine this day. To my surprise the menu was completely in French. Knowing that Canadians have an English/French heritage, I politely hailed the waiter and ask for an English menu. After all I was in Canada, one of the largest English speaking countries in the world!
The waiter looked at me after I asked if there was a English menu and spoke in French. I was a bit dazed because my French was all but non-existent. I had taken French from Ms. Miakami in high school but that was a lifetime ago. So I did what all good Americans do when attempting to speak a language they don’t know, I accented my English. If my memory serves me I may have used a slight Italian accent which wasn’t easing international tensions.
My mind raced for solutions. Could I stand up and ask if anyone in the restaurant spoke English? My image management personality wasn’t going to allow me to face that kind of humiliation so I reached back for Ms. Miakami’s instruction.
I took a deep breath an dribbled out, “Ne parle pas Francais.” I was utterly stunned when I heard this waiter speak in perfect, unbroken ENGLISH, “Oh you don’t speak French.” Fortunately I was stunned or I might have reached out to do bodily harm to him. In the last 3 minutes he put me through socio-linguistic hell, if there is such a thing.
Language is a personal thing. Handling it respectfully communicates dignity and worth. A simple attempt at speaking in French rather than defaulting to my own personal taste and comfort would have shouted respect for his life and culture. But because of my internal demands I wanted him to respect me without showing the property respect for him. The sad fact I was on his turf not on mine but that didn’t effect my internal demand. Sociologist would call that a bad case of “ethnocentrism.” I am guilty!
I wonder why it is people from my tribe, followers of Christ seem to be guilty of “ethnocentrism” when it comes to communicating the life altering truths of the Bible. We’ve created a culture with our own language that allows us to talk to one another efficiently and sometime effectively. But it keeps outsiders in the dark.
It is a commonly referred to and often ridiculed language known as Christianese. Not only does it have a listing in Wikipedia but it also has a Facebook page and numerous entertaining youtube videos. Here is a sample:
10 part tape series on How to Speak Christianese
Often we/I quote I Corinthians 9:19-23
Eugene Peterson’s The Message interprets it this way: 19-23 Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!
In an attempt to explain our “incarnational” strategies and methods of seeing people grapple with who Jesus is. Incarnation is more that going where people without Christ are. It requires learn to speak about God’s activity in our lives in ways that people understand us.
What if all of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ/Christian/Born Again Believers/your choice of term, decided to talk about our spiritual journey in normal everyday understandable language.
Try it and see if you can
- describe how you began following Jesus or
- how the Creator God made himself known in a particular moment in your life.
- t0 someone who has never heard of Jesus or the Bible.
This discipline is going to be key to seeing outbreaks of the message of Jesus among people who are not yet living as His children.
Here are some other activities:
- Respond to someone
- who has yet to discover the opportunity to live as a son or daughter of God
- who says they have a relationship with God.
- Describe the Bible and how it is organized without using terms like Old and New Testament or Gospels.
- Go back thru this post and identify the “insider” language that I use in the different tribes that I exist in.
I’d love to see the results below.
2 thoughts on “Oh, you don’t speak French?”
Good to know!!!!
Just FYI….you have a French teacher here if you ever need anything 🙂